Philly crowd finds an underdog to root for

MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Luke Donald chips into the hole at the par-3 13th hole to reach 4-under during the second round.
MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Luke Donald chips into the hole at the par-3 13th hole to reach 4-under during the second round.
Posted: June 16, 2013

WITH THE four major sports teams not giving Philadelphia sports fans much to cheer for lately, there seemed to be a real need for someone to be the center of their affection during yesterday's U.S. Open play at Merion Golf Club.

Of course, Tiger Woods draws the biggest crowds and the loudest cheers, but many, maybe most, are just watching out of curiosity, not for rooting purposes. Phil Mickelson probably has more people rooting for him than Woods, but it's too easy to cheer for him. Philly fans need an underdog.

Walking the grounds at the beginning of yesterday's rounds until midafternoon, the leading subject of the crowd's adoration became quite apparent. It wasn't Tiger or Phil or local guy Jim Furyk or Rory McIlroy. Not Graeme McDowell (whom I picked to win this championship) or Luke Donald or even Bubba Watson.

Instead, it was glorious Merion itself that garnered fans' adulation. The little course in the Northeast that was going to yield such un-Open-like scores has turned into a real kick in the pants for these guys.

The best line of the day came from a fan while Woods, McIlroy and Adam Scott were waiting to hit their second shots on hole 14. Woods stood at his bag talking with caddie Joe LaCava when he flashed that famous toothy grin. As he did, a fan shouted, "Merion is showing its teeth better than you, Tiger."

"People thought that these guys were going to come in here and just tear this course apart," said Chris Campbell, of Collingswood, N.J., who attended with his brother Kevin. "It's the other way around. I bet this course gets another U.S. Open at some point pretty soon."

It just might. Venues are scheduled until 2020, but after that, who knows. Sure, there's a lot more to look into than only the scoring of the players over four rounds. But a trip back to Merion certainly would seem legit. And maybe by then the Philly professional sports scene will have made a turn for the better.

U.S. or British Open?

When the horn sounded at 7:15 a.m. to begin the completion of Thursday's suspended round, it certainly didn't have the feel of the second day at the U.S. Open, at least not by Philadelphia weather standards. A steady mist fell and the temperature struggled to get out of the 50s early in the morning. The coffee concession stands were doing a brisk business, and many spectators had gone to the humongous merchandise store to get themselves heavier clothes. The mud that had been so prominent earlier in the week reappeared, bringing with it a horrible stench.

"All those years we took the kids to the zoo, we thought it was the animals that smelled," one fan said. "Turns out it was the mud and the hay."

The sun appeared about noon and boosted the temperature into the high 70s, drying up some of the mud, which was good for the spectators. It also dried out the greens, which isn't so good for the players.

Most fun hole

For the second straight day, it had to be No. 13, the short par-3. Early in the day, the pin placement was the same as Thursday, just off the front of the green, and the hole played to 102 yards. When the second round began, the pin was moved back, just at the end of an upward slope, and the hole played to 123 yards. While hitting the green was still layup-like, making putts wasn't.

Luke Donald might have had the shot of the day at the hole, as he plopped a shot from off the back of the green and in the thick rough. The ball went about 10 feet in the air, fell softly on the green and rolled into the cup for a birdie. At the time, it gave him a share of the lead at 3-under.

Other thoughts * 

Golf fans are really nice people. There are usually kind words to the players and to fellow spectators. Maybe, for the most part, people should dress in nice shirts and ugly shorts at the other sporting events in town. It seems to have a nice effect.

* For the most part, golfers are far smaller in person than they appear to be on television. Not sure what that means but, for the most part, they are average height, with a few (such as David Lingmerth) as vertically challenged as colleague Mike Kern.

* The thousands of volunteers at Merion were not only outstanding at their jobs, they also couldn't have been nicer.

* Still not a fan of the "hush" rule surrounding golf shots. Saw players scold fans more than a couple of times for being a bit too loud (meaning they were talking) as a player was about to hit a shot. Maybe hockey shootouts, foul shots in basketball and crucial field goals in football should ask for the same courtesy. Yeah, right.

DN Members Only : Phil Mickelson, still hanging onto the lead.

On Twitter: @BobCooney76

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